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Mt. Ashland previews its COVID-19 protocols

ASHLAND — Mt. Ashland Ski Area visitors can expect priority to be given to season-pass holders, with queued lift lines and beers in the parking lot instead of at the lodge bar this winter as the ski industry grapples with putting people on snow amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Mask requirements in lift lines and limited food and beverage services that will include more takeout than dine-in are in the works for the ski area, which will open in mid-December or when enough snow falls on Southern Oregon’s only alpine ski area.

Ski area employees will work in pods to reduce quarantines should a positive COVID-19 test show up there, and things like ticket sales and waivers will be handled online to reduce health risks as people are expected to flee their homes and flock to the mountain for winter recreation like never before.

“We’re trying to start very conservatively, and we can always meter up (services),” ski area Manager Hiram Towle says. “We don’t want to meter down, and we want to keep everybody safe. We’re committed to getting people on snow whenever we can.

“Our motto is, ‘Don’t be the reason we end our season,’” Towle says.

Jonesing for the slopes is back on skiers and snowboarders’ minds this week as the ski area starts its fall ski-pass season sales Thursday, and this year more than ever the pass might pencil out for predictability as much as financially for riders.

To ensure as much solid social-distancing as possible, pass holders will get first dibs on the slopes daily, Towle says. And while 600 or more daily passes will be sold only online, if COVID-19 restrictions call for reduced riders, the daily passes will be cut before access for season-pass holders, Towle says.

“We’re basically committed to our pass holders,” he says.

Some ski areas have gone to a reservation system for season-pass holders, and while that’s a possibility, Towle says he doesn’t see that as likely.

Season passes cost $424 for adults, $374 for juniors aged 13 to 17, and $214 for youths ages 7 to 12.

When the ski area opens, expect a different scene at chairlifts that are set up to run regularly, but differently.

Riders will be required to wear facial coverings, but the vast majority already do, Towle says. Expect to ride chairlifts only next to people with whom you came to the mountain, he says. Show up alone and expect to ride the lift alone.

The ski area will open without offering its free bus service from Ashland nor its twilight skiing Thursday and Friday nights.

Plans are to open the lodge, but in a far more limited way.

Visitors in all buildings will be required to wear facial coverings, and people flow indoors will be limited.

Beverages and a limited food menu will be offered — largely for takeout, and perhaps even ordered via cellphone, Towle says. Very limited seating is expected inside, so expect to congregate more in the parking lot, he says.

“We’re telling people not to rely on those services and treat your car as your lodge,” Towle says.

That includes your bar.

Like pre-football game tailgating, knocking a few suds back in the parking lot is something of a tradition at ski areas like Mt. Ashland, Towle says.

Like at tailgates, such activity is legal in the Mt. Ashland parking lot, but under some fairly strict rules, says Chamise Kramer, spokeswoman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, which is home to the ski area.

Visitors are allowed to drink alcohol outside, but not sitting inside vehicles even if the door is open — “just like with any other tailgating parking lot,” Kramer says.

Imbibers are subject to all alcohol-related driving laws, she says.

“That’s how it is everywhere,” Kramer says.

While tailgating this winter on the mountain, it might pay to first offer homage to Ullr, the Scandinavian snow god, to provide powder for the ride but not during the imbibe.

“Not every day is a nice day to sit on your tailgate,” Towle says. “It will be different.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Skiiers at the base area at the Windsor lift at Mt. Ashland.